A native predator to North America, the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) was once widespread throughout much of California. Unfortunately, by the 1930’s the species was extirpated in most of the contiguous United States, with remnant populations remaining mostly in the Great Lakes region and the Northern Rocky Mountains. In the Southwest, there were only five Mexican Gray Wolves. In the 1960s, these wolves, under the protection of a precursor to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, finally started to make a comeback in the American West.
Throughout North America, wolves provide an essential function of checks and balances for various ecosystems by controlling the population growth of prey - from rodents and rabbits, to elk and deer. Keeping prey species in check is crucial to maintain the integrity and resources of any healthy ecosystem. In this way, the existence of wolves promotes the survival of a significant number of organisms, including numerous species of plants, fish and amphibians.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable examples of the Gray Wolf's ecological importance is illustrated by the story of its reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park, in 1995. In a video titled "How Wolves Change Rivers", the non-profit group, Sustainable Human, reflects this story, revealing the important role that Gray Wolves play in maintaining the ecological processes of Yellowstone's Rivers.
Wolves and People
Today, any encounter with wolves in the wild is truly a rare phenomenon. For good reason, wolves have come to fear humans, and thus typically steer clear.
According to Amaroq Weiss - the West Coast Organizer for Wolves with the Center of Biological Diversity - in the last hundred years, throughout all of North America, there were only two recorded instances of human fatalities caused by wolves; one in which wolves were confirmed to have killed an individual in Alaska, and another in Canada. However, the Canadian situation remains questionable as to whether wolves, or a lone bear, was responsible for the individual's death.
For more information on Gray Wolves, check out these resouces: